SOUTH DEVON RAILWAY VINDICATED IN FOOTBRIDGE ROW

Published at 15:48 on Tuesday 25th September 2018
Tags: SDR, Devon County Council, South Devon Railway, Totnes

GWR 6400 Class Pannier tank No. 6412 arrives at Totnes with the 14:15 from Buckfastleigh on 26th June 2018. Ian Williams

The South Devon Railway (SDR) has been embroiled in a row with Devon County Council regarding the inclusion of the line’s privately owned footbridge that provides the only public access to its Totnes Riverside station.


The Railway was widely accused by councillors from both Devon County Council and Littlehempston Parish Council as being a ‘barrier to progress’ for its proposed cycle route, both at meetings and in the local press, but the Railway’s representatives maintained that they have serious concerns about the safety of passengers and visitors to both the station and the local Rare Breeds Farm, whose users also use the footbridge, since the possible scheme was first mooted.

Dick Wood, the SDR’s Press Officer, told Railway Herald: “Our ticket sales from Totnes Riverside give us an accurate indication that 25,000 passengers board our trains there each year. Obviously, our Railway doesn’t open all year, so this figure is spread across only our 260 plus operating days, and most footfall tends to occur around a 15-20 minute interval prior to the arrival of a train and up to its departure. We are predominantly a family attraction, so of course this includes a reasonable number of parents with prams, buggies and small children and the bridge already gets very congested. Even at present, a great deal of patience can be called for at busy times! The footfall is actually much higher than might be expected, as the Rare Breeds Farm has similar visitor numbers to our own Riverside station, and of course, many passengers that have boarded our trains at Buckfastleigh also take the opportunity to alight here and walk into Totnes itself.”

The minimum design standard for a shared use footpath and cycleway specifies at least a three-metre wide path, which is 50% more than is currently available on the Railway’s footbridge. Mr Wood added: “We are not ‘anti-cyclist’, as has been alleged by a number of cycling groups; in fact, we have installed cycle racks at Riverside station to give those arriving by bike somewhere secure to leave their cycles while they enjoy travel on the Railway.”

Railway Herald approached Devon County Council with a series of detailed safety questions, which asked what design processes had been undertaken to determine the bridge’s suitability for use for its proposed purposes and for details of risk assessments for the departures from standard for the path width. A spokesman for Devon County Council said: “As requested by the Highway and Traffic Orders Committee Devon County Council approached the South Devon Railway Trust to discuss access across its land. The outcome of this discussion will be reported back to members at the next meeting on 23rd November.”

This clearly did not answer any questions that were put to the Council. A more comprehensive response was also received from Littlehempston Parish Council. Jonathan Morris, the Parish Council Chairman, commented: “It has always been my view that cyclists should dismount and proceed by foot across the bridge and I would wholeheartedly support this approach. This is, in fact, what cyclists do at the moment. As a tourist attraction, I hope that the Railway will welcome being part of the National Cycle Network and the additional visitors this would bring. The shared use of the bridge would naturally bring with it shared maintenance commitments, so help fund the upkeep of the bridge for years to come.”

However, the Parish Council is not the highway authority responsible for delivering the scheme, and has no ultimate say in the decisions that affect the bridge. Mr Morris’ response has therefore been taken on this basis and forwarded to the county council for its input.

In view of Devon County Council’s failure to answer a single question that was put to it, Railway Herald contacted an independent Senior Highway Engineer at another Local Highway Authority to understand what procedures should be carried out before such a bridge can be deemed suitable for shared use. He explained: “Highway designers are governed by various design standards, and while these can be departed from under exceptional circumstances, we have to carry out due diligence to show that the completed design will be safe for use. This applies to every highway, from the biggest motorways to rural public footpaths. For shared use paths such as this one, there are a number of key standards to follow but the starting point should be Local Transport Note 1/12 ‘Shared use for Pedestrians and Cyclists’. This shows that initial design can be carried out before consulting other stakeholders – such as the South Devon Railway in this case – but also recommends that they are involved at the early stages. In any case, the design process laid out in this document states that any safety concerns raised, either by the stakeholders or in general, should be carefully considered and resolved before the route can be deemed suitable and the design finalised.”

Mr Wood confirmed that the route was first mooted to the Railway several years ago, stating: “We were originally approached about the potential use of our bridge for the cycle route back in 2009 and again in 2011, and raised exactly the same concerns at the time. Unfortunately, we have had no feedback regarding these proposals in the intervening time, despite the plans cropping up at intervals, but a conversation I had with Devon County Council’s local highway engineer, John Fewings, last week confirmed that no design work has ever been done to assess the bridge.”

Railway Herald contacted the county council and asked for a confirmation or denial of this fact, but a response was not provided.

The independent highway engineer that we consulted added: “If, as suggested, no design work has been commenced on the bridge, then in my opinion it would be a mistake to declare to the press and the public that it is suitable for multi-user use. At a minimum, a feasibility study should be undertaken very early in the process and examine the existing and proposed future flows of pedestrians and cyclists, look at the concerns raised and make a detailed inspection of the structure.”

It is concerning that the council’s representatives have been unable to answer a single question we put to them regarding the Railway’s safety concerns, and this in itself backs up the SDR’s position of refusal to agree even in principle to the plans at such an early stage. It is clear that in no way can the bridge be deemed ‘suitable for use’ for this purpose without some design work, and the Railway’s dismay about the county council’s members advising the press and public of its suitability appears to be fully justified.

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